Chocolate, Harry Potter, trains and Vikings – all the ingredients for a family trip to York

Chocolate, Harry Potter, trains and Vikings – all the ingredients for a family trip to York

York with children – the City of Chocolate is rich in history, but will it prove a sweet treat for this family?

Our children jumped up and down in excitement when we said we were going to York. 

When our daughter asked about the aeroplane and our son mentioned Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, we realised they thought we were spending our two-day break in the Big Apple. 

Thankfully they were still pleased when we explained that York is walled city in northern England. 

Our Harry Potter-mad son was especially keen when we said we would visit the real-life Diagon Alley.

Shambles – Diagon Alley

Shambles – the oldest shopping street in Europe – was the inspiration for the wizarding street in the films and it didn’t disappoint.

The SHop that must not be Named at Shambles in York


A few businesses in this narrow medieval lane have capitalised on the link – The Shop That Must Not Be Named and other wizarding stories were selling Harry Potter wands and other goodies.

The City of Chocolate

York is also famous for chocolate. Its popular products include Rowntree’s Kit Kats, Smarties and Aero and Terry’s Chocolate Orange and All Gold.

So, a guided tour at York’s Chocolate Story was top of my wish list (make sure you book in advance, it’s popular).

York's Chocolate Story exterior

We learned about the city’s famous chocolate-making families and how to eat chocolate like an expert.

Best of all we had some ‘free’ samples along the way and got to make chocolate lollipops!

For our full review of York’s Chocolate Story read here.

York Minster

York is great to explore on foot – all the attractions we did were within walking distance and lots of the centre is pedestrianised.

Presiding over it all is the city’s huge 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster.

It is magnificent but we feared our eight and four-year-old might still find it dull. Thankfully, they were given a treasure trail and binoculars which saved the day.

A girl uses binocular to look for items off a treasure trail inside York Minster cathedral.

On a treasure trail

Also go armed with facts if you can – ours liked hearing that it took 250 years to build and is 160 metres long, for example.

York Castle Museum

Most of the activities we enjoyed celebrated the rich history of this city, which was founded by the ancient Romans.

York Castle Museum doesn’t go back quite this far but it does showcase 400 years of York’s past.

A Victorian Street at York Castle Museum

The Victorian street

Our son’s school topic this term is the Victorians. So, a replica Victorian Street here really grabbed his interest. 

A sweet shop seller in a Victorian street at York Castle Museum

A Victorian sweet shop

Toy exhibits were also a highlight, along with old prison cells which held criminals including highwayman Dick Turpin.

For our review of York Castle Museum and tips, click here

National Railway Museum

Another place with a huge collection is the National Railway Museum, home to around 60 vehicles

Trains at the National Railway Museum

National Railway Museum

Our favourites here included the collection of royal train saloons. You can peep through the windows to see the lounge and bedroom carriages on trains used by monarchs from Queen Victoria through to Queen Elizabeth II. For a full review and pictures, see here.

Entry here is free but you have to pay for extras – a ride on a miniature train cost £10 for the four of us. For our full review and tips, click here

Jorvik Viking Centre

Next we had to travel further back in time to discover The Vikings.

Jorvik Viking Centre is built on the site of amazing archaeology finds.

It tells the story of an excavation in the 1970s which pieced together the story of the Vikings of Jorvik.

A ride takes you around recreations of 10th century York, then you can see 1,000-year-old artefacts from the dig on display.

Figures seen as part of the ride at Jorvik Viking Centre

Jorvik Viking Centre

There was a long queue to get in when we visited – apparently it is quieter first thing and around 3pm.

Our eight and four-year-old were not as interested in this attraction but their eagerness to get around quickly may have had more to do with the fact it was nearly lunchtime. 

City Cruises York

We found a nice warm place with a great view to eat our picnic – aboard a York City Cruise.

This 45-minute ride up and down the River Ouse was accompanied by excellent commentary from the driver.

City Cruise York - a boat on a tour on the River Ouse

City Cruises York on the River Ouse

And it was nice to relax for a bit amid all the activities.

Staycity Aparthotel York

After a day of history we were able to enjoy the modern comforts of our base – Staycity York.

This aparthotel was built in 2016 and has studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

The lounge/diner/kitchen in our room at Staycity Aparthotel York

Our lounge/diner/kitchen area

We had a roomy two-bedroomed apartment with a lounge/dining/kitchen area and two modern bathrooms. It was fully equipped with everything you could need including a cooker, microwave and dishwasher.

A bedroom at Staycity Aparthotel York

But it also has he benefits of a hotel – there’s a gym, café, laundry and 24-hour reception. Plus there’s a nearby multi-storey car park where you get a discount – we left our car here for the whole trip.

Staycity York is in a good spot next to the Barbican theatre (for our full review click here). We could even see part of the city walls we had walked earlier from our room.

York City Walls

The walls are the longest medieval walls in England at over two miles.

York city walls and daffodils

York city walls

There are some good views but make sure to keep hold of little ones as only the higher drops seem to have railings.


Cobbled streets, tea rooms, a city steeped in history and a bit of Harry Potter thrown in made for a magical two days.

New York can take a back seat. Our children love old York.

For more ideas and information go to the VisitYork website.

York Pass

A York Pass is the city’s official sightseeing card. It gives you free to more than 40 attractions in York and beyond. For more information see here.

We were given York Passes for the purpose of this review (all views are our own).

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We were given free accommodation for the purpose of this review. All views are our own.